Author Archives: Miia

About Miia

Originally from Finland, Parisienne by marriage. A happy mother of a happy daughter. I have traveled in more than sixty countries for pleasure and work. Love cooking, restaurants and food markets. Design and architecture catch my eye. This blog is about everyday life in Paris, past memories converted into travel stories, and new adventures.

Midnight swim


Summer house. Sauna with my Mom. Dipping into lake. Just after the sunset. Water 18 degrees, air around 10 degrees. Cold? A bit, yes, but feels rejuvenating.

Magic Finland, dear summer house. Until next summer!

Swim after sauna. Feels fantastic! Even when water is only 18 degrees.

Swim after sauna. Feels fantastic! Even when water is only 18 degrees.

The day the fish came out

A few days after my last post Still waiting for fish the fog appeared. One morning the lake was so misty that we could not see the islands in front of us (less than one kilometer away). As every morning, my Dad left for the cast nets and the much-awaited fish was finally there. During a period of about two weeks we caught a lot of fish: pike, pike perch, white fish and bream.

Pike is a freshwater fish commonly found in Finland.

Pike is a freshwater fish commonly found in Finland.

Not all fish is equal. Pike we usually give away to a local family who gives us potatoes and milk in exchange. Pike perch we consider like gold (it can cost nearly 40€ per kilo at super market) so we keep it. White fish is another precious fish, and we keep it too. However, bream is not something we often eat, so we normally give it away either to a Russian friend who loves bream, or to our neighbors who give us mushrooms in exchange. The cast nets sometimes give us roach but that is for cats…

Breams before being given away.

Breams and roaches before being given away.

Life continues to be sweet at the summer house. And it doesn’t hurt to go back to basics: the barter economy!

Still waiting for fish

While the rest of the European continent has been basking in very hot temperatures, Finland has experienced very cold weather. Some weeks ago the summer 2015 was the coldest summer since 1987, but according to the latest statistics we are now talking about the coldest summer since the sixties… and the summer is not over yet!

Getting ready to throw cast nets into the lake

Getting ready to throw cast nets into the lake.

Gone fishing

Gone fishing.

To us staying at the summer house this has meant practically no fish. One week ago on Saturday my father was advised by a local fisherman that now may be time to start cast net fishing. According to the fisherman the wind was changing and should result in better catches. So, off my father went to drop the nets into the lake, but one week later we are still waiting for the big catch. The weather has been very strange and fish are definitely acting weirdly too. Fishing at midnight is only a beautiful memory. No fresh fish at our dining table this summer.

The rain comes

Life at the summer house can pretty much be summarized in two words: nature observation.

The rain comes when the sky gets dark blue, grey and pink.

As the sky gets dark blue, grey and pink, the rain comes.

Finnish lake at 10 o’clock in the evening!

Isn’t this the most beautiful lake view ever? The photo taken at Lake Lappajärvi, in the western part of Finland tonight at 10 o’clock! And the sun is still above the horizon….

Would you believe this photo was taken at 10 o'clock in the evening?

Would you believe this photo was taken at 10 o’clock in the evening?

Arrival at the summer house

It has been almost one week since I arrived at the summer house in Finland. The routine kicked in fast. The wake-up between 9 and 11 o’clock, porridge with berries while watching the lake view, walking the baby in the woods (she seems very impressed by the surrounding tall pines and spruces), cooking lunch, cutting wood, observing birds, arranging the boat garage, heating up the sauna and preparing dinner (often Grilled vendace: a typical Finnish meal after sauna).

I usually go to sauna around 9 o’clock in the evening, after putting my daughter to sleep, and return to the kitchen to cook while my parents have their turn at the sauna. The weather hasn’t been warm enough for drinking rosé wine at terrace but we have enjoyed red wine from Luberon and biodynamic red from Languedoc-Roussillon (Domaine Cazes, Cuvée Marie Gabrielle 2011). Life is sweet here and will only get sweeter when my husband arrives some time next time.

No need to look further for peace and calm. Finnish lake scenery at its best.

No need to look further for peace and calm. Finnish lake scenery at its best.

It is 7 o’clock in the evening as I am typing this. Time to cut wood and heat up the sauna!

PS I will be here for several weeks, so stay tuned for more stories about the life at the Finnish summer house!

Lastly, Pearlspotting is on Facebook and on Instagram. If you prefer Twitter, you can find me here @Miia_Niskanen

See you soon!

New year, new adventure

Some of you have wondered about my unusually long silence and I don’t blame you. I am embarrassed too when I look at my last publishing dates but thankful at the same time for those who have been loyal to my blog, contacted me privately to ask about my life, or simply taken time to comment old posts.

For almost six months now I have been suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), more known today as the Kate Middleton condition, and life has been about daily nausea and vomiting. Yes, I am pregnant and contrary to many common presumptions, I am definitely not having the time of my life. My husband thinks I look like a prima donna from the Paris Opera but I wonder if he ever went to see an opera. In reality, I look and feel like this tree.

tree under snow

To say the least, it has been very tough to handle the daily life. Instead of cooking (something I love), I now throw some frozen industrial food into the oven. All sorts of smells trigger the nausea so without rare exceptions (like Christmas), I haven’t been able to visit our favorite food market in Bastille (Sunday Market). In addition, I have developed some very strange eating habits that have come in phases: two weeks of mashed potatoes from morning until evening, industrial soups for another two weeks’ period, then bagels, then something else. Lots of potatoes and wheat –ingredients easy to throw up!

I am aware that all this sounds very strange and hard to believe unless one has had personal experience with HG. I cannot even believe this myself. I am a rather practical and realistic person, and never had too many illusions about pregnancy, but I could have never imagined either that something supposedly so magic could make one so sick. It seems neither natural nor fair (but hey, life is not about fairness, right).

So, apart from eating difficulties, how else has HG affected my daily life? Well, I do nothing that I used to do, so it has changed everything. In the first months, when all this started, I stayed in bed all day long, closed my eyes and tried to sleep as much as possible as it was the only state when I didn’t feel nauseous. Unfortunately, as I realized, a human being cannot sleep 24 hours per day! I also stopped looking at Facebook and Internet because there were too many food photos (oysters that I usually love became the worst; only a thought and I would throw up). I stopped reading because it felt more challenging than climbing Mount Everest. I went to the movies once but brought along a bag to vomit in. Apart from a brief, odd phase of ramen soups (Sapporo: one of the best cheap ramen in Paris) and few other exceptions, I haven’t been to restaurants (and we usually go twice a week!). As I work independently, I haven’t been able to accept any contracts and clients. I had to cancel all the trips. When I finally started taking medicines (my husband took me to the emergency room after I had been vomiting nonstop for hours), I got a little bit better and we decided to go on holidays (Miami, here we come!), but the trip made my condition worse. On my birthday I was lying on the sunbed, turned my head toward the sand to vomit, and the vomit hit my shoes. Yes, you can laugh.  I may be able to laugh too one day. I hope.

I think it is fair to say that HG has eaten away my personality (and dignity, I feel), and I am afraid I will never be myself again.

So, this blog post. A long explanation to a long silence. I may or may not be back soon, and certainly hope that it will be sooner than later. One of the basic needs of a human being is to be creative and I miss that (amongst other things).

tulips in Paris


What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

It is estimated that about 0.5-2% of pregnant women are touched by HG. Even the medical community is not very well aware of HG and what causes it, which makes things worse (support is rarely there). Most likely the doctor will dismiss the woman’s complaints by saying that nausea and vomiting are normal during the first trimester, and will disappear soon enough.

However, if the symptoms continue into the second (or worse, the third!) trimester, then it is important to act. There are some signs that tell the difference between the “normal” morning sickness and HG. For example, the latter makes one vomit a lot and systematically, and lose weight, and one will most likely need hospitalization and or medication in order to be able to continue living. As a basic rule, what helps to cope with the morning sickness doesn’t bring a lot of relief (if any) to someone suffering from HG. One can try acupuncture, ginger products, eating small snack and portions, homeopathy, etc, but most likely nothing will work. A great website to differentiate the morning sickness from HG is found here:

So, as cruel as it sounds like, to some extent HG accompanies the pregnancy during nine months, and the only cure is the birth.

In order to get help and support, I cannot over-emphasize the fact that one needs to understand that the morning sickness and HG have almost nothing to do with each other. Once you know what you have, things will probably get emotionally better. The doctor, family and friends should take your condition more seriously when you start introducing yourself as someone suffering from HG (do not forget to specify that HG is different from the morning sickness –this way you can hopefully avoid listening to annoying comments like “have you tried ginger ale?”).

I hope this post will help some other women suffering from HG, and should you have questions or need support, you can always contact me publicly or privately by my blog or by Pearlspotting Facebook page. Even if I may not be writing new posts, I do always respond to comments.

Miami, here we come!

In less than five days I will be swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and I cannot tell you how great it already feels! Even if this fall has not been that rainy in Paris, I love the idea of soaking up the sun and playing with the waves. The importance of annual winter sun therapy cannot be exaggerated!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

Miami is a great winter destination for Europeans: beautiful weather including warm sea water all year round!

When we decided to go away in late November, we hesitated between different destinations. It was not easy. If you want to be able to swim in warm water, and do not want to travel all the way to Asia or Africa, the options are quite limited for us living in Europe. We contemplated between Dubai combined with Oman, and Miami, and finally decided on the latter. Tickets cost more to Miami than Dubai (and I won’t be able to fly my favorite aircraft A380…) but seaside hotels are cheaper. In addition, there are great shopping opportunities in the US. Of course one finds almost everything  in Dubai, too, but who does not love American outlets? Especially when we are about to hit the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales!

I have been to Miami and Florida before, but for some reason I am particularly excited about it this time around. I am getting into my bling bling mode and searching my wardrobe for dresses with matching shoes and bags to wear. What I know about Miami is that no dress is too extravagant! After all, I will be competing with southern American beauties so I have to look my best (lol).

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Part of my dress selection for Miami!

Ok, now that I have disappointed you with my superficial side, I am going to tell you that I won’t be walking around in high heels all day long. Our current plan is to stay maybe one week in Miami and then head somewhere else for the second week. If we run into Donald Trump and he is about to sail to the Bahamas (does he sail?), we wouldn’t say no to an invitation. We may also check out the Mexican Gulf (the islands near Fort Myers etc.), something we haven’t done before. We will probably return to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The last time we snorkeled there some people in our group spotted hammerheads! However, unfortunately and according to my knowledge, snorkeling is not possible at the moment in Biscayne National Park…

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world's most famous art deco district.

Art and architecture in Miami. South Beach is the world’s most famous art deco district.

So, I am a fan of Miami and Florida, yes. When I first visited Miami just over two years ago, I was prepared to stay just one full day in Miami and then head to the Keys for the rest of the week. I admit that I thought Miami would be too artificial, too flashy, and I would have never thought that someone as intellectual as I consider myself to be (second lol) could fall in love in Miami. But I did. I loved the beach life, loved southern American fusion food (Bolivar: South American Fusion Food in Miami Beach), loved the art and architecture, and the people. I have worked a lot with Americans in the past and I just love that simplicity, straight to the point attitude, and their marketing and communications skills. So, during our last trip we spent 5 wonderful days at the Park Central Hotel in Miami South Beach and 3 nights in the Keys. Such a wonderful trip  it was. That time it was for my husband’s birthday, now it will be mine. I am very confident that Miami won’t disappoint me this time either –how could it?!

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

Stunning view from our room at the Park Central Hotel.

What do you think of Miami and Florida? What would you do if the only thing you had booked was a Paris-Miami return ticket and two weeks of time?  Any tips on great restaurants, things to do, hotels (all categories), snorkeling, etc.? Share your pearls with me please and I kindly than you in return.

November equals vendace in Finland

Even if November in Finland is considered by many the darkest thus depressing month of the year, it represents exciting times for those who love fishing. This is when a small lake fish called vendace approaches the shore to lay eggs, making it easy to catch it by nets.

In the western part of Finland where our summer house is located the vendace season usually begins around All Saints’ Day. Depending on the weather (how fast the lake freezes) the season lasts from one week to one month.  As this fall has been exceptionally warm, the season has had a rough start, resulting in less fish with less eggs. During a typical season, every other fish caught has eggs inside, whereas this November only one in ten has had eggs!

Fishing in Finland in November represents a delicate balance between nature and man.

Fishing in Finland in November represents a delicate balance between nature and man. Photo credit: Juho Niskanen

Catching the vendace is hard work. The nets need to be dropped in the lake in the late afternoon as the vendace approaches shallow waters after the sunset (remember that at this time of the year it gets dark before 4 p.m.). Those fish that are not trapped in the nets lay the eggs and leave for deeper waters after the midnight and at the crack of dawn the harvest can be collected. Careful weather observation is required because if the temperature rapidly falls at night, the lake starts freezing, making collecting nets impossible or at least difficult!

The vendace movements are not very well researched, but locals like my father who have been fishing for decades in the same place know their rhythm. By observing the weather, the lake and how it starts freezing they know more or less when the time is right to throw the nets to the lake. Despite the rather odd weather this fall (temperature fluctuation from below zero to 15 Celsius!) our summer house freezer is home to some one hundred or so vendace…

PS You may remember my post from last summer Grilled vendace: a typical Finnish meal after sauna? It is possible to catch vendace during the summer, too, but one requires special nets and needs to go farther away, to deeper waters. Naturally, the fish caught does not contain eggs.

Moral dilemma in Zanzibar

Have you already had your Ebola dream? I had mine about a month or two ago. I was wearing a mask and walking towards trucks that were carrying endless amounts of people. It was hot, humid and dusty. People seemed to be escaping something while I seemed to be walking toward that something. The scene looked like refugees escaping an invisible war zone, a mass exodus, but the dream didn’t transcend fear. Nobody died and I woke up without sweat.

The dream has stayed in my mind, and not only because of the ongoing global Ebola scare. It has brought my mind to something that happened in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in 2000 (the same project that inspired me to write Making friends over the Indian Ocean).

Working in Tanzania was such a pleasure! My first African project.

Working in Tanzania was such a pleasure! My first African project.

Dar Es Salaam was my base for months and it was a very pleasant African city to work in. There were great restaurants serving grilled jumbo prawn and the beach was never too far away. National parks were easily reachable. When I was not working or on safari, I hopped on a ferry to visit Zanzibar, this mystical island culturally so different form the mainland Tanzania. Sometimes I even had to go to Zanzibar for meetings, but most of the time it was out of pure pleasure.

Photos from the paradise -Zanzibar.

Photos from the paradise called Zanzibar.

During one of my last visits to Zanzibar I was diving with a local dive master somewhere off the eastern coast. We had finished turtle watching, I was back at my hotel and had just had a shower when I heard a knock on the door. The dive master excused himself but quickly continued that we are not too far away from his native village and there is a problem. The village needs my car. It appeared that a child had died and needed to be transported from his father’s village to the mother’s village, and the only person the dive master was comfortable with asking a favor for was me. Would I come with him and help him to transport a young dead boy to where he needed to be –with his mother?

A few minutes later we hit the road. Needless to say, it was pitch black. The road was tiny and we were certainly very far from any place a normal tourist goes to. I had no idea where we were. I now hope I had a bottle of water and a torch but I am not sure. We must have driven a hundred kilometers that night. Eventually we collected the tiny corpse, which meant that the father placed his son at the back of my car, taking a seat to it. In silence we continued driving. I followed the instructions and the road certainly didn’t get any wider. I guess I asked what the boy had died of and I think the answer was the usual malaria.

Our arrival at the mother’s village was quite something. There were dozens and dozens of women in a circle, welcoming us, and as soon as I opened the car door, they started The Cry. In fact I can still hear The Cry of these women but I still don’t know how to describe it. It was the most haunting cry I have ever heard, so loud that it must have been heard all the way in the mainland Tanzania. It was not a cry one hears at western funerals. It was something more planned and integral, something that culturally separated me from them. It would be too narrow-minded to say it was a scream from a horror film. For these women it was a way of welcoming this little boy with respect and doing what had to be done. For me, all I wanted was to put hands over my ears. The fact that there was no light brought additional disturbance.

I drove back to the hotel in silence with my dive master who by the way was just a child himself. Well, a young teenager. He thanked me and left. I remember thinking that he probably didn’t know either what to do or say –how to comfort a westerner who is so shocked by something so natural. I also remember that I did what most westerners do when they get confused and disturbed in Africa –I had a gin and tonic before heading to the bed.

Children in the Stone Town (they don't have any relevance to the story).

Children in the Stone Town (they don’t have any relevance to the story).

Now, let’s play a mind game. Fast forward this event to 2014. Remember that I am today fourteen years older than I was in 2000, and supposedly wiser (one must believe in progress, right?). Remember that today’s world is shaken: Ebola kills 70% of those infected. With Internet, news travel faster. There is no way that in 2014 I would be in the dark. In fact, I would know exactly that carrying a dead body of someone who just died of high fever would automatically put me in risk. But what would I do today should a similar opportunity arrive in front me? Would I still today be as “naive” as I was in 2000 and without any hesitation take the car keys and leave? But in the first place, is it justified to say that I had acted out of naivete? I could continue these questions forever.

If my dream was any indication of my possible behavior, I think I would do the same. Or is it only something that I would like to see myself doing? After all, what do we really know about ourselves before the opportunity or the test presents itself to us? Not much.

What are your thoughts?

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